How to Build a Strong Foundation For Your New Company

Key steps for turning a bright idea into a thriving business

Starting a new business is a challenging, though rewarding, experience. As you bring your concept to life, there are a few essential steps you can take to help your enterprise succeed. Those steps were the focus of a recent virtual discussion called “Preparing to Launch,” sponsored by Comcast Business and hosted by Fast Company and Inc. The event brought together two successful entrepreneurs who built their businesses from the bottom up--and who have plenty of lessons to share with emerging entrepreneurs. Here are four takeaways from their conversation about how to turn a bright idea into a thriving business.

1. Draw on your expertise.

Draw on what you know can give you a springboard into new markets. Jerome Clark had spent nearly two decades in the beauty and personal care industry before he started In Good Conscience, a line of sustainable bath- and body-wash products. Clark hit upon the idea of building a brand that partners with Black- and minority-owned suppliers and donates a percentage of sales to nonprofit organizations. As a result, Clark says his company is able to differentiate itself in a crowded niche by telling “a broader story about how you can incorporate social impact in the day-to-day practice of healthy hygiene and personal care.”

Industry expertise was also helpful to Pat Sullivan, the founder and president of Game Creek Video, the largest independently owned mobile television production company in the U.S. Sullivan started the business after leaving his post as general manager of a pro football team, hoping to capitalize on the fact that broadcast TV networks were leaving the mobile production business.

After years working in the football market, Sullivan was able to develop early relationships with teams in other sports that proved to be useful training grounds for his fledgling firm. “Once we started to prove ourselves . . . our reputation started to precede us in the door,” Sullivan says. “That was a really good thing.”

2. Hire people who know what you don't. 

While your expertise may form the foundation of your business, it’s critical to bring in team members who are skilled in other areas. “For me, one of the biggest gaps was managing our social media presence, interacting with people in that community, and working with influencers,” Clark says. To bridge that gap, he hired an employee who was fluent in social media and who understood how to promote In Good Conscience’s brand on digital channels.

The key to long-term success, Sullivan says, is hiring smart people who are committed to mentoring and training those who come after them--and then allowing that next generation to take the reins, even on such high stakes projects as nationally televised sporting events. “It’s fun to see them grow,” Sullivan says. “That helps our company innovate, because we’re constantly bringing in new ideas and new ways of doing things.”

3. Run the numbers.

Thorough financial analyses are a key component of any new business venture. Early on, it often makes sense to keep your estimates conservative, and even consider that profits may be lower than expected. “You have to be prepared to, at best, break even,” Clark says, noting that you should also have a plan for the business to accelerate into profitability.

As you get underway, an experienced accountant--or, at minimum, robust accounting software operated by someone who knows it well--is essential to keep track of important metrics such as cash flow, profit and loss, and the accuracy of your projections. “A good accountant can save you lots of money on the tax side of things,” Clark adds.

4. Mind the red tape.

Few entrepreneurs strike out on their own due to a passion for paperwork. But amidst the excitement of growing your business, it’s important to build a strong administrative foundation. That starts with choosing the appropriate legal structure, which will have an impact on your daily operations, how you pay taxes, and your personal liability. In this process, consider assembling a team of experts to guide you. “We took a lot of advice from our accountants and a lot from our attorneys and came up with the structure that we started with in 1993 and we still operate under today,” Sullivan says.

From there, you’ll need to ensure that you’ve got the required local, state, and federal permits on hand for your industry, as well as appropriate insurance coverage. Clark discovered the importance of the latter when In Good Conscience began a partnership with a major online retailer, which required liability coverage. “It started out as a requirement, but it was very helpful down the road because there were other vendors that also asked for insurance,” Clark says.

With these issues addressed, you can focus on what’s most important: going above and beyond for your customers. “Don’t do what your customers want or expect,” Sullivan says. “Exceed their expectations at everything that you do, and you’re going to end up with a repeat customer.”

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Originally posted on Inc.,

Key steps for turning a bright idea into a thriving business

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